Revolutionary Shadows: Borderlands Identity in the Fiction of Américo Paredes
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Revolutionary Shadows:
Borderlands Identity in the Fiction of Américo Paredes

Américo Paredes’s two novels register the impact of modernity on native mexicano culture in the Mexican American borderlands: George Washington Gómez (1990, written in the 30s and 40s), a Mexican American bildungsroman, and The Shadow (1998, written in the 50s), which tracks the psychic disintegration of a Mexican ex-revolutionary officer. George Washington Gómez and The Shadow are respectively set in, and in close vicinity to, the twin border cities Brownsville and Matamoros on the north and south banks of the Rio Grande (under the fictional names Jonesville-on-the-Grande and Morelos).1 Indeed, the novels take place within a few miles of each other, on opposite sides of the border, at around the same time in the first few decades of the twentieth century. As I will show, George Washington Gómez and The Shadow are novels that “shadow” and complement each other. The novels form a kind of border diptych not yet recognized in Paredes studies, which tends to treat these texts separately because he wrote them at such different moments during his career, in the 1930s and early 40s and during his graduate studies in the 1950s respectively. Furthermore, while George Washington Gómez has attracted a great deal of critical attention, The Shadow has been comparatively neglected. Yet these works are best read together, for The Shadow offers new clues to Paredes’s conceptualization of split borderlands identity and racialized subject formation under modernity, a topic that has attracted the notice of a great many critics of George Washington Gómez. The Shadow’s south bank Mexican setting, viewed as belonging to the history of another country, accounts [End Page 791] for part of its relative critical neglect. The Shadow contributes an essential piece of Paredes’s psychology of modern mexicano identity in the borderlands. Framed as the complementary north and south panels of Paredes’s border-straddling diptych, George Washington Gómez and The Shadow reveal a hidden deeper dimension of Paredes’s borderlands poetics, a genuinely transnational poetics that cannot be considered within one single national context (the United States) without incurring a palpable loss. In more general terms, Paredes’s work also urges a genuinely comparative literary and cultural studies. Comparison has recently come under attack as a “homogenizing process rooted in the encyclopedic ambitions and evolutionary models of nineteenth-century thought.”2 But, as Paredes’s example shows, comparative thinking is fully compatible with a de-colonial focus on difference and the unique contributions of writers of color: it is a fundamental mode of understanding embedded within the texture of thought of this modernist-era US-Mexico borderlands writer.

Paredes’s academic project of folklore and ethnography takes place in a comparative transnational framework. Embedded in the larger construction of Greater Mexico, its inner core is the smaller-scale region on the southernmost section of the Texas-Mexico border that Paredes terms the Lower Rio Grande Border, “the area lying along the river, from its mouth to the two Laredos.”3 This “was the heart of the old Spanish province of Nuevo Santander, colonized in 1749 by José de Escandón” (With His Pistol, 7). The Lower Rio Grande Border also constitutes the immediate setting of George Washington Gómez and The Shadow, whose respective locations Brownsville and Matamoros make up the easternmost outposts of the Lower Border map. Corridos, narrative ballads celebrating the exploits of their collective heroes—social outlaws who defend popular rights “pistol in hand”—are prime instances of Greater Mexican expression in Paredes’s ethnomusicological research, where the border corrido and the Mexican revolutionary corrido come together. Parallel to this, Paredes’s folkloric work documents the survival, in the twentieth century, of a transborder mexicano imagined community and culture on the Lower Border, which defies the partition, in 1848, of a unified Mexican society straddling the north and south banks of the Rio Grande. Indeed, it was through informal border crossings for family visits that the real-life story that served as the basis for Paredes’s novel about post-revolutionary Mexico, The Shadow, was trafficked to the north...


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